The eponymous tournament in Megan Derr’s Tournament of Losers is a competition where commoners compete against each other for the chance to marry into the noble and royal houses. Rath has no particular interest in the competition — and he’s sure it’s rigged anyway — but then a loan shark who his dad owes big comes knocking. Suddenly, the prize money that the contestants get if they make it through the first couple rounds of the tournament starts looking pretty good. And so off the reluctant, down-on-his-luck Rath goes.
Tournament of Losers is a silly and adorable rags-to-riches story with a gay romance. Is the premise inherently ridiculous? Yes! Is the secret identity of the stranger who Rath picks up at a bar at the beginning of the story obvious? Definitely! Are some of the competition tasks nooot necessarily ones a future noble or royal’s consort needs to excel at? Probably! Does any of this lessen the book’s charm? Nope!
Central to the charm is Rath himself. He lives at the very bottom rungs of society, scraping by working both as a day labourer and prostitute. To be fair, he’d probably be far better off if he didn’t keep having to giving away his money to repay his father’s debts. But that’s what makes Rath so fun to follow: he’s cynical and grumbles a lot, but also has a huge heart, a streak of vulnerability a mile wide, and a strong sense of justice.
The stranger picked up at a bar, the bookish noble Tess, is also very sweet; their romance made me grin a lot. Roth is good for Tess, broadening his perspective; Tess is good for Roth, helping him improve his sense of self-worth. They’re just… both nice people and I was genuinely rooting for them to get together properly. I would be all over any sequel that was just the two of them fucking about
and just fucking I guess, this book is rated PG for fade to black, guys and getting even closer.
Other characters play a much smaller role. Still, I really liked that although Rath has a shit lot in life and isn’t close to many people, he has a wide range of casual friends. I didn’t realise that what I secretly really want more books to have is the protagonist randomly running into his drinking buddies, but it turns out I do!
Overall, I really enjoyed reading Tournament of Losers. There is a little bit of clunky dialogue and worldbuilding at times, but those are small quibbles. Honestly, the word that comes to mind describing the book is “wholesome”: most everyone here is just plain decent and that’s really nice to read sometimes. So if you’re in the mood for a fun, short book that you definitely shouldn’t take too seriously, check it out!
(Dunno if it’s too on the nose, but especially recommended for fans of Liam Perrin’s Sir Thomas the Hesitant and/or CS Pascat’s The Captive Prince.)